How Companies Are Rapidly Upskilling Workforces

In 2018, U.S. job postings in IT, finance, and sales roles required an average of 17 skills. By 2019, these roles required 21 skills, including eight that weren’t required before. Companies are struggling to find a way to keep up with changing skills. This poses a significant challenge for businesses, particularly in today’s war for talent. Instead, companies must find or develop the skills they need within their existing workforces.

How do you ensure your employees have the skills your business needs when it needs them? Organizations manage worker’s skills in two main ways: 

  • Reactive. Many organizations are taking a reactive approach to learn new skills. Employees apply only 54% of the new skills they learn after 12 months. These organizations are too slow to get the skills to employees at the moment they’re needed most.
  • Predictive. Trying to predict skills is worse than reacting, according to HR experts. Employees apply only 37% of new skills they learn at organizations with a predictive approach. Attempts at predicting future skills are more likely to lead to wasted training or outdated skills.

Studies show that a balance of these two types, the dynamic approach, is most effective. Employees at organizations that use a dynamic skill approach apply 75% of the new skills they learn. This strategy embraces ambiguity and makes peace with imperfection. It frees up HR, managers, and employees to move fast in responding to things they know and can anticipate. Employees appreciate the transparency so they can make the best decisions to stay in their preferred roles.

Identify Changing Skills Needs

Most companies delegate learning and development to the HR department. Leaders don’t always understand how their business goals affect the talent in the organization. This can lead to identifying the wrong skills gaps or overlooking vital needs. To identify skill gaps, companies should regularly bring together input from employees, leaders, and customers.

One company collaborates using a network of skills stakeholders, including partners from each business unit, business executives, and HR professionals. That cooperation helps them identify skill shortfalls. The stakeholders gather regularly to review data on workers’ current abilities compared to talent initiatives meant to meet the company’s skills requirements. They monitor progress against agreed-upon interventions and elevate any changes that may influence the organization’s overall skills plan. The business uses data-driven choices that guarantee local and enterprise-wide talent demands are satisfied using this strategy.

Jumpstart Skills Development

Many organizations respond to today’s rapidly evolving skills needs by providing more formal training. Although formal training is important, by the time the training is created and delivered, the need has changed. Skills accelerators leverage existing resources and expertise to enable upskilling support that’s good enough to meet the company’s need for skills.

  • Identifying skill adjacencies – Identifying adjacent, stepping-stone talents from skills employees currently have to provide shortcuts to in-demand skills.
  • Upskilling a chosen group of enthusiastic and prominent employees and then having them train their peers on new skills as needed.
  • Using data to detect and personalize learning delivery to the moments when skills needs exist in the organization.

Identifying skills adjacencies can help business leaders tap into a broader and more diverse pool of employees. For instance, your organization may need an employee skilled in Python. Closely related skills like Java are part of an overall network of complementary skills that people with Python skills usually have or can develop quickly.

Employees’ backgrounds in adjacent areas such as mathematics, statistics, and business analysis can help employers hire data scientists. HR leaders can identify when new skills and learning are needed most and deliver them to employees in the right form and at the best time.

They gather information from a range of sources to determine:

  • Moments when employees need to put new abilities into practice and may gain the most from learning (such as tenure milestones and promotions).
  • Opportunities to develop abilities that can help the organization at times of high demand (such as flu season).
  • HR collects real-time productivity or on-the-job performance data directly from multiple business systems to trigger frequent training, reskilling, or upskilling.

Employees and Leaders Must Share Goals 

Leaders need to share evolving skills needs and how these changes are likely to impact specific roles. Employees should also share their skills and career goals with the business. Exchanging this information empowers employees and leaders to match development plans and pursue mutually beneficial development opportunities.

Managers who redirect employees to subject matter experts in the company are best suited to improve employees’ skills. These “connector managers” are effective at directing employees to the right people and resources at the right time. They’re also more transparent with employees about their skill needs and opportunities. 

Some organizations have started asking employees to document their skills as part of a portfolio or profile. Employees at these businesses use a website to track their current skills, knowledge, and experiences, as well as their career objectives and growth goals. Leaders can use that data to fill important jobs and steer employees to opportunities for growth based on their profiles. Employees are more likely to commit to keeping their profiles if they understand the link between recording skills information and future career chances.


The demand for quick reskilling and upskilling will only grow as industries, companies, consumer expectations, and work standards continue to adapt and evolve. Organizations must reconsider the bounds of conventional solutions to skills shortages to meet these problems. Taking a dynamic skills strategy, rather than trying to read a crystal ball to predict future skills or waiting for requests from company executives for new abilities, increases the possibility of workers implementing the skills they acquire in their present jobs.

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